A Fixed Heart
For this Confirmation, I have broken with my tradition of giving confirmands a verse from the appointed Introit or Gradual. I usually pick from these because they show up every year on the same Sunday. I want confirmands to have a yearly reminder of their Confirmation verse. With you Robert, I'm not doing that. I give you instead your grandfather Lesko's confirmation verse. 64 years ago, almost to the day, on May 16, 1948, a pastor placed his hand you grandfather's head and said Proverbs 23:26, "My son, give Me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe My ways."
Today I will give this verse to you, but I also want you to have something that will appear every Fifth Sunday of Easter too. So I'll be talking about your heart that the Lord asks for by referring to the Collect. "O Godgrant that among the manifold changes of this age our hearts may ever be fixed where true joys are to be found." Robert what I'm giving you for Confirmation is a fixed heart.
You know your heart needs fixing. Genesis 6 and 8 says so. Both before and after the Flood that destroyed the world, God said of mankind, of you, of me too. The imagination of our hearts is only evil from our youth. The very first thoughts we have are evil. That's why parents say "no" so many more times to a baby before they ever say "yes." Robert your heart has needed fixing from your very beginnings. Your brokenness didn't start when you first did something wrong. No, you did wrong because you were broken from the beginning.
Your heart needs fixing because God says so twice in Genesis and because the prophet Jeremiah says so. He says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." Then the prophet asks, "Who can understand it?" Our hearts are broken into a millions bits and shards. Novelists, poets, musicians, psychologists, and philosophers see the pieces, but no one knows how to fix them. They're like all the king's horses and all the kings men; they can't put the heart back together again.
As if the testimony of Old Testament is not enough to convince you that your heart needs fixing, Jesus says so in the New Testament too. In Matthew 15:19 He says, "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." All this wickedness, all this evilness, all this sinfulness doesn't come from out there, from TV, movies, video games, or others. It comes from the heart; you're heart. Thanks be to God then that I John 3 says, "God is greater than our hearts."
Your heart needs fixing Robert, and your heart has been fixed. No, it wasn't fixed by confirmation instruction. The congregation doesn't know that for two of your three years it was just you and me. That's in-tense instruction. It's hard on a student to be the only focus of the teacher. But all that instructing is not where your heart was fixed. I wasn't the heart repairman, no Jesus was and is.
Your heart has been fixed by Jesus. He, true God begotten of the Father from eternity, took on flesh and blood in the Virgin Mary's womb. He was incarnated with a real heart just like you have. But His heart was holy, blameless because it is God's heart, and He never sinned in deed, in word, or even in His heart. Unimaginable, isn't it?
Jesus did with His heart what you and I can't do with ours. He lived a perfect life, totally pleasing to God, but something more was needed to fix your heart than the requirements of God's law being kept. The law's promised punishment against law breakers had to be carried out too. So Robert what do you think should happen to hearts whose first thoughts are only evil? What should happen to desperately wicked hearts? What should happen to hearts that can only break the commandments by churning forth murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander?
Robert hearts like ours deserve bad days at school, horrible diseases, family tragedy, and earthly disaster. But even that would not be enough punishment. Our broken, wicked, fallen hearts deserve not only temporal punishment but eternal. And that's what Jesus endured; that's what Jesus suffered: both earthly and eternal punishment. On the cross it all came to a head. There all the punishment all sinners could ever deserve, there all the punishment your sinful heart deserves, was suffered in your place by Jesus. And how was that suffering punctuated? By a Roman soldier piercing Jesus' heart, the heart of God, with a spear.
But that's not the end of the story, is it Robert? God the Father didn't leave God the Son in the grave. Having paid for all sins, neither the Law, nor Death, nor Devil had a case against Jesus, so they couldn't hold Him. Jesus rose from the grave, heart and all. Remember how He offered His risen body to His disciples to touch, hold, handle. Surely they went right for the heart. They wanted to feel, to touch, to hear the thump, thump, thump of His risen, glorified heart.
So Robert the holy life Jesus lived and His innocent suffering and death paid to fix your heart, but how does what Jesus did get to you? In the Gospel reading Jesus says, "You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you." His Word both visible and invisible; His Word which you not only hear but see in Baptism and Communion and which you hear in Absolution are the means by which what Jesus did gets to you. Nothing coming from you heart: be it good intentions, strong desires, or even faith fixes your heart. No what fixes hearts can only come from outside them. Baptismal waters create brand new hearts; Absolution keeps them clean, and as you're about to find out, the Body and Blood of Jesus feeds them.
Robert you came to me in Confirmation with a fixed heart albeit in a body two or three feet shorter than it is now. But your heart was already fixed; your parents saw to that. They brought you to Holy Baptism as an infant. They had you instructed in the Christian faith. They brought you to God's House for Sunday School and Church. You're heart was already fixed. I simply taught you that it was, and today your fixed heart speaks.
Robert, Confirmation is a very ancient practice. From the first 2 centuries of the church, it was a period of 1-3 years instruction. When you recite the Creed during the actual rite, you're following a tradition called "handing over the Creed" and "giving back" (We Look for a Kingdom, 119). I've given it to you during 3 years of confirmation instruction, and today you give it back as a symbol that you know what you have received. In term of our sermon, you recognize what God has given you, a fixed heart, and you give it back to Him.
This fixed heart, as your Confirmation verse says, is to observe God's ways. That's how the King James translates the Hebrew, and it is legitimate. Confirmation has always been a ceremony of the Church Militant, the fighting church. The process was meant to train candidates for the Lord's Army. During the first 200 years of the church it wasn't thought of as a means of evangelism, of growing the Church. The early church didn't find ways to make the process easier, to get more people through. Confirmation was a wall, a barrier, against unworthy members (Schaff, II, 257). The only ones who were confirmed were those who could knowingly and willfully pledge to observe God's ways.
Robert there are only two paths in this world. A broad path with lots of people on it, and a narrow path, think of a cow trail, with just a few. The broad path, the popular path, the easy to find path, leads to destruction because it leads away from God and His salvation. The narrow path, the unpopular path, the path that is getting harder and harder to see in this darkening, fallen world leads to life because it leads to God. The ways of God I want you to observe are of course His Commandments, but you will fail like I do. So more importantly I want you to observe His ways of forgiving sins: for the sake of the holy life of Christ and His innocent, suffering and death, and by means of Baptism, Absolution, and Communion.
Robert your fixed heart is given back to God today and it leaves here pledging to observe God's ways. But the Hebrew in your Confirmation verse can be translated another way. Rather than "observe My ways," it can be read "delight in My ways" or "find happiness in My ways." This is how the newer translations take the passage. It too is legitimate. Find happiness in the ways of God, Robert. Delight in them because what delights the heart is what the heart will be fixed on.
Delight in the Waters of Baptism that created a new heart within you and you'll be anchored in Baptism. Find happiness in the Words of Absolution that send your sins so far away from you that not even God can find them and you will be grounded in forgiveness. Have your highest joy in the Body and Blood of your Savior given and shed for you on the cross and eaten and drank by you in Communion and you, Robert, will be joined to angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven including your grandfather Lesko.
Robert there are lot of other legitimate, God given things to be delighted by, to find happiness in, to be overjoyed with. But you will find what the Collect says: the many changes of life mean they don't last forever and some not that long at all. The salvation of God is eternal salvation. The joys of God are eternal too. He has fixed your heart, so that your heart may be fixed on Him where true joys are to be found. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fifth Sunday of Easter (Confirmation Sunday 20120506); Proverbs 23:26